Many children stop sucking their thumbs on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. But for those who don’t, here are a few tips to encourage your child to stop the behavior.
- Talk openly about the bad habit. Explain to your child that he is old enough to stop and offer support if he eventually tells you he is ready to kick the habit.
- Identify triggers. Does your child suck when he is tired, bored or stressed? By identifying times when your child is prone to suck, you can possibly intervene.
- Use positive reinforcement. Don’t cause a confrontation by forbidding him to suck his thumb. This will likely backfire.
- Limit the behavior. Perhaps by offering a compromise, you will be able to reduce the frequency of the behavior. For example, maybe he would be willing to limit his thumbsucking to naptime and bedtime, or just in the house instead of out in public.
Gloves, thumb guards, bandages, and bitter-tasting substances can be used, but they will often frustrate the child. Remember, your child will outgrow this behavior when he is ready!
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, March 2020
These are great tips – but I have a friend that sucked her thumb until she was 24. It’s a hard balance to know when to try to stop.
My daughter has been a huge thumbsucker since 3 months old (she is 3 years old now). I used to put bitter tasting nail polish on her thumbs, but that only worked for so long before it went right back in her mouth. She usually does it when she is sleepy or as a self soothing method. It is definitely a hard habit to break.